Intoxicatingly elusive but ultimately alienating
There’s a wonderful air of claustrophobic intensity to Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which crafts a part-Hitchcock, part-Kafka universe, only seen through the eye of Cronenberg.In no particularly great shock, given cinema’s history of delivering multiple versions of the same basic story within a very short timeframe of each other, Enemy is the second of two of its kind released within a few months of one another. Loosely based on the 2002 novel, The Double, that particular name was already taken by the other similarly-themed mystery thriller starring Jesse Eisenberg, which was not based on the novel. Still, despite the similarities in the premise, Enemy is really a unique beast; unlike just about anything that you may have seen before. And, unfortunately, only partly in a good way.
Although it quotes the similarly-elusive novel’s line “chaos is order yet undeciphered”, it doesn’t even make an attempt at illuminating the impenetrable subtext, instead trading in an all-too absorbing mystery which is, unfortunately, founded upon a shallow, empty void of nothingness.Still, it skates around over the surface with skill and majesty; driven by a fantastic performance by the increasingly interesting Jake Gyllenhaal, who is married up with two equally strong female counterparts in Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon. Villeneuve previously delivered one of 2013’s most underrated little dramas in Prisoners, and he certainly knows how to wield human emotions and human flaws in equal measure, and get right under your skin. He also paints a suitably old school Cronenbergian atmosphere; a yellowy alien other-world which doesn’t quite look real, and where anything can happen at any time.
Unfortunately, Villeneuve has less of a handle on the novel’s original message: some painfully obtuse subtext involving totalitarian states that evolve within each one of us; a quest for individuality suffocated by our own inner dictator. And spiders.
Instead Villeneuve focuses on the more obvious mystery tale that plays out on the surface and, in it, crafts an immersive, atmospheric thriller which manages to draw you in without actually delivering many overt thrills; a mystery feature which teeters on the brink of surrealism without dabbling in outright fantasy, and maintains plausibility throughout despite the increasing absurdity of the scenario. You’re utterly gripped by the piece, which often adopts a voyeuristic feel to only further involve you in the characters’ plight, and you’re desperate to unravel the complex puzzle.
Thoroughly intoxicating, it's just a shame that the final 'twist' unravels all the good work leading up to it.
Where he missteps, however, is in ultimately failing to address the elephant in the room. Whilst the original novel may have been more upfront about its political allegories, Villeneuve quite rightly puts them aside in favour of his mystery thrills and tension, but then can’t reconcile the unquestionably ridiculous ending. Some may argue it was designed to shock, others may argue that it makes you see the entire movie in a different light, but it’s a cheap tactic which actually only has the effect of unravelling much of the great work done before. And, despite the best efforts of the director, and the impressive efforts of Gyllenhaal, this atmospheric little mystery gem is still ultimately left feeling equal parts hollow and impenetrable.
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